Dr. Julie Ponesse, professor of Philosophy at Huron College at Western University in London, Ontario, published an emotional video on September 7, 2021, the day of return to campus for many Canadian universities and colleges. The video, which was censored by Youtube within hours but re-uploaded numerous times, including by myself here, reveals that Dr. Ponesse was threatened with dismissal from her faculty position or had already been dismissed that day. In the meantime, it has become clear that she was suspended with pay and received a “termination with cause” letter on September 16.
In the viral video, Prof. Ponesse gives a mock lecture in Ethics 101, using her own case. The central question is whether an employer is right to dismiss an employee in the midst of a successful and productive career for declining an unnecessary, experimental medical procedure. As per Ponesse’s expertise and dedication to teaching philosophical principles, the question is asked from a moral and ethical perspective. It is no secret that she was facing this exact situation, like many higher-education faculty members, and had already answered the question for herself with an unreserved “no”.
While the video generated an outpouring of support on social media, mainstream media attempted to diminish the argument and discredit the person, as has become the norm with any critical voices regarding the prevailing pandemic narrative. The local newspaper, the London “Free” (?) Press, presents the case in a biased article full of suggestive language and misleading associations; I have just started a separate blog post about the propaganda tricks of mainstream media and fact checkers, in which I will use this article as one example.
A more profound critique of Dr. Ponesse’s position comes from one of her colleagues, Dr. Maxwell Smith, bioethicist at Western’s School of Health Studies. In a Twitter thread dated September 10, Smith focuses on the “ethical impetus” to “prevent suffering & death” and emphasizes the balancing act between Charter rights of the individual and the broader interest of society. These are relevant considerations, yet Smith himself notes that “The ethical rationale for vaccine mandates begins with the science.” And this is where his argument breaks down entirely.
While there was “unequivocal” evidence that the vaccines protect the recipient, it increasingly looks like this efficacy was a snapshot from the pharma corporations’ trials and is rapidly waning. Countries like Israel, UK, Gibraltar, Island, etc. with early vaccination campaigns and high uptake are experiencing high COVID-19 “case” counts and growing deaths. This pattern is sure to emerge in Canada soon, as already evidenced in Toronto’s September 15 epidemiological update that shows 45% of deaths over the July 11-Sept 11 period were fully or partially vaccinated. In addition, the benefit to society of an individual’s protection is limited to preventing hypothetical health care system overload, yet this concern has virtually never materialized in 2020, when we had no vaccines; so why would we worry about it now?
Most importantly, Dr. Smith opines that “evidence suggests [the vaccines] reduce transmission” and refers to a “correspondence” in the New England Journal of Medicine, a report that was not peer reviewed and does not seem to have a control group or address seasonality among other possible problems. At present, you can likely find as many observational studies supporting a modest impact of the vaccines on transmission as you can find sources disputing it. Simply comparing the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the above-mentioned countries or any jurisdiction with high vaccine uptake, such as the Province of Ontario, with the same metrics taken one year earlier, when nobody was vaccinated, will put a damper on the hopes that the vaccines do anything to “stop the spread”.
Dr. Smith goes as far as to reject the notion of coercion, by referring to the “meaningful choice” between accepting an employer’s vaccine mandate or finding a new job. He refers to Dr. Ponesse’s ethical principles as being so strong that she is making this “choice”. Unfortunately, Dr. Smith appears to view a faculty position as just another job that you can change at will. He should have a better sense of tenure-track faculty positions; they are uniquely personified in the combination of appointee and academic department or program. As scholars, we are so highly educated and focused in our expertise that many of us won’t qualify for any other job, be it academic or not. But we also constitute our programs and departments, more than employees in any other field. This is perhaps only comparable to being the irreplaceable founder and CEO of a specialized enterprise. Thus, the vaccine mandates imposed on faculty are clearly coercive, and they are ill-advised from the university’s or college’s perspective as well.
A similar argument applies to forcing students to withdraw from academic programs at institutions of higher learning that they had carefully selected. Additionally, by negating the difficulty of deciding on a career change under duress, enforced by employers on ethically and legally shaky grounds, Smith ignores the hardships that many unvaccinated workers are facing right now. The countless thankful comments and responses to Ponesse’s video attest to the highly volatile situation we’re in.
It is greatly problematic that experts, public health officials, politicians, and now also employers do not pause for a moment to reflect on the lopsided pandemic response. Instead, the myth of the vaccine as the only solution is being perpetuated. In fact, Dr. Ponesse was one of the signatories along with Dr. Steven Pelech from UBC Medicine and yours truly on a letter-to-the-editor titled “Hatred towards the unvaccinated is a result of continuing misinformation in the media about what COVID-19 vaccines can and cannot achieve“. In response to the Toronto Star arguably inciting hatred with its infamous August 26 front page, we were hoping to instill some common sense and curiosity into the Star’s investigative brains. We explain that the vaccines were not developed, tested, or proven to prevent infection or transmission. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, we never heard back from the Star.
Yet, the fact that the public is poorly informed about the developing science around SARS-CoV-2, essentially receiving propaganda generated by filtering information through the lens of the predefined government and mainstream narrative, is hugely concerning. How many vaccinated Canadians chose to “get the jab” not just voluntarily – the question discussed above – but after receiving full disclosure of the benefits and risks? The Canadian Covid Care Alliance created a short video explaining the elements of informed consent for COVID vaccination. This informed consent is simply not available to the average person at present.
Even the obvious “safety signals” from the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System or Health Canada’s weekly COVID-19 vaccine safety reports are not broadly known. Dr. Smith refers to the minimal 0.007% ratio of serious adverse events in Canada, but without relating it to the small risk of suffering a serious case of COVID, the age stratification of both metrics, the issue of possible significant under-reporting in the Canadian system, or the unknown longterm safety of the vaccines.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ponesse takes a more principled stance on the ethical wrong of employers’ vaccine mandates. In this post, I assert that this stance is strongly supported by the scientific evidence around SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, and the vaccines’ function, efficacy, and safety. To put all our eggs in one basket instead of pursuing competing solutions such as early treatment protocols and focused protection is irrational and frankly stupid.